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Updates on ACOS News and Events

State defunds Rhode Island’s ONLY Syringe Exchange Program
September 13, 2016

AIDS Care Ocean State lost $65,000 in funding that will prevent over 50,000 plus needles from being disposed of properly, due to state’s 2016-17 Rhode Island’s legislative grant process.

In July of 2016 AIDS Care Ocean State’s (ACOS) funding was not renewed by Rhode Island’s Legislative grants causing an elimination of $65,000 in HIV prevention funding to our ENCORE (ENCORE: Education, Needle-exchange, Counseling, Outreach, and Referrals) program from the state of Rhode Island’s Legislative grants.  ENCORE is the ONLY program in the state of Rhode Island that provides comprehensive, holistic, resources and harm reduction services, including syringe exchange, drop off and disposal for intravenous drug users. The original grant created through legislation was sponsored by Representative Eileen S. Naughton of Warwick.

ACOS has reached out to our local elected officials; Governor, Gina Raimondo, Speaker of the House, Nicholas Mattiello, and President of the Senate, M. Teresa Paiva Weed. At this time none of these officials have responded to validate our concerns and recognize what a significant loss this will be to our community.  With letters of support from healthcare providers, community advocates, local authorities, and the community at large we are strongly urging our elected officials to reconsider, reallocate and rededicate the necessary funding to ensure this program is able to continue without an interruption in ENCORE’s funding stream to ensure we are not putting members of our most vulnerable communities at risk. 

Currently there are efforts being put forth by The RI Medicaid Office, The Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the RI Department of Health to research any possible sources of funding. These efforts and support are encouraging and very much appreciated by ACOS, however at this time funding has not been secured. 

ENCORE has been established since 1994.  Since ACOS has been the leading advocate on the front line for the past twenty-two years, committed to providing our most vulnerable community members with adequate resources.  In a time where the stigma of HIV/AIDS was a death sentence to those infected, we as an organization ensured EVERY community member received the same respect and encouragement they deserved.

Our ENCORE team travels to several areas in Rhode Island and can be identified by their signature, yellow, ENCORE backpacks. Our syringe exchange workers require specialized training and work with populations most at risk with contracting HIV and Hepatitis C.

The results are clear – AIDS Care Ocean State’s ENCORE program saves lives.

Through long lasting community relationships, we ensure each of our clients desiring treatment for their substance use are referred to one or more of our partners in care.  Partners include, but are not limited to CODAC, Discovery House (Woonsocket/Providence) and Anchor Recovery.

Statewide data has shown that with the introduction of our outreach team’s initiatives surrounding syringe exchange, there has been a significant drop in new HIV/HCV infections by intravenous drug users. New HIV infection rates have dropped from 17% when the program was created to 4% through 2013 and another drop to 1% in 2015.  

Throughout 2015 ACOS provided services to 318 individuals, 107 new clients were enrolled in the syringe exchange/harm reduction program.  ACOS saw 780 returning clients and the total clients served in the exchange group was 944 (this includes returning clients exchanging for their friends and family, secondary exchange).  Clean syringes distributed in 2015 totaled 57,783 and 43,808 were collected.  

This means that 43,808 used syringes were not discarded on our streets, in our parks, allowed to wash up on our state’s beautiful beaches and potentially jeopardize the welfare of our community

In addition to being the ONLY program in Rhode Island that offers syringe exchange, disposal of used syringes, ENCORE guarantees those who are most in need in our community access to front line intervention, access to care, mental health and addiction counseling, free, anonymous, confidential HIV testing, Hep C testing, and so much more. ENCORE’s outreach workers also distribute and train individuals on how to administer NARCAN, the lifesaving drug used in an opioid overdose.  ACOS & ENCORE reach the following communities: Providence, Woonsocket, Newport, Pawtucket and Central Falls. New target locations in Narragansett and Westerly are currently underway for 2016.

 In 2015 February thru December, ACOS distributed 108 kits of NARCAN (2 doses per kit- =216 doses) to 83 unique individuals.  Naloxone, sold under the brand name NARCAN among others, is a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in overdose. Naloxone can be administered intravenously, intramuscularly, and nasally and begins to reverse symptoms of an opiate overdose in as little as 2 minutes. NARCAN kits allow friends and family members of opiate users to provide immediate assistance in overdose situations. Of the 83 clients that received NARCAN kits, 56% were female and 44% were male.  57% stated that they previously overdosed.

Through successful training by ENCORE staff, it was reported, that NARCAN was administered to 25 individuals during an opiate overdose, providing lifesaving treatment.

The requested renewal of $65,000 was strictly in place to cover the cost of supplies.  This includes nearly 60,000 syringes we distribute every year, disposal of more than 40,000 used syringes, alcohol swabs, band-aids and our NARCAN kits which keep members of our community alive in the event of an opioid overdose.  In order to provide rapid testing, the program needs lancets, spot band-aids, sharps containers and an increase in biohazard waste removal. 

This decision to cut funding has jeopardized our community’s safety.  ENCORE has established itself as the leading provider of support within Rhode Island.  We work diligently with local health care providers, local police departments, and peer advocates, and have become the standard of care amongst these groups.

We encourage our supporters to reach out to Governor Gina Raimondo ( and Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello ( and remind them how important Rhode Island's ONLY Syringe Exchange is to the health and well-being of our state.

Tagged With: grants, hep c, hiv, idu, needle, rhode island

AIDS care Ocean State help people deal with the physical and emotional issues around HIV, issues that are frequently magnified by poverty. While everyone can agree that medicine can help keep HIV in check, it might be surprising to know that hopelessness, uncertainty and feelings of isolation can be a barrier to living a healthy life for an HIV Positive person.

That’s why Livia Harkow started the Women’s Community Garden Project at our Tanner Street location in 2018. In fact, during a therapy group, a client asked if we could start a garden. Livia, a graduate of URI’s Master Gardener program, knew it was a good idea to engage clients. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that horticulture therapy can really improve the spirits of HIV positive, low income people.

How? It’s an excellent way to talk about nutrition and self-care, and creates a feeling of community and purpose; all of which generates positive emotions, self-esteem and a meaningful appreciation of life. It nurtures the idea that a woman’s body is her own, a feeling that may be new to our clients. In practical terms, it leads to people more actively interested in taking their medicine and going to group therapy. Plus, they are eating healthier, learning life skills, and being a part of something larger.

Thanks to the partnership of some generous donors, including the South Side Community Land Trust and Earth Appliance, our clients have planted a garden of to be proud of. These dedicated women in our group therapy take pride in the beautiful and blooming organic garden they created, where herbs, tomatoes, lettuce and squash thrive in the sunlight.

Inclusion is a big part of the program. Garden beds were created to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, so that people with physical limitations could also participate. An ACOS youth group has been invited to participate and Livia would like to expand the program to other ACOS Housing, such as New Transitions, Sunrise House and Austin Place.

Now, the program practically takes care of itself. The Community Gardening Project for Women continues to meet twice weekly using horticultural therapy principles. This wonderful program helps our clients combat isolation and give a sense of community to all who participate.

Would you like to help our clients live, happier, healthier lives by supporting programs like this one? Click here to donate to AIDS CareOcean State!